August 13, 2022

An astronaut (or astronaut/cosmonaut) is the term for a person who travels outside the Earth's atmosphere (undertakes space travel). Space travel has long been one of man's dreams. In 1865, the French writer Jules Verne wrote the novel "Journey to the Moon", which described astronauts being launched from a giant cannon and landing on the moon. In 1902, the film "The Journey to the Moon" came out, which is partly based on Verne's novel. However, it was only after the Second World War that technology made it possible to begin space exploration. The German retaliatory weapon V-2 was the first man-made object to reach space, and after the war the United States secured the German research expertise behind the V-2 with Wernher von Braun at the helm. The Soviet Union and the United States each had their own space programs, and after the Soviet Union's success with the Sputnik 1 satellite, what has been called the space race began. The space race culminated when the American lunar landing craft "Eagle" from Apollo 11 landed on the moon on July 20, 1969. Later, the United States and the Soviet Union began a collaboration on the resource-intensive space research, a collaboration that astronauts from many nations have benefited from.

Space travel

The definition of where the boundary between the atmosphere and outer space lies varies. The Fédération aéronautique internationale (FAI) uses 100 kilometers altitude as the limit, while NASA and the US Air Force award the "astronaut wing" to those who have been above 80 kilometers altitude. At this altitude, an aircraft cannot be controlled aerodynamically, and is therefore defined as a spacecraft. With the American experimental aircraft North American X-15, 8 pilots received the "astronaut wing" in the period 1962 to 1967 after reaching heights above 80 km.


To learn more about how living organisms are affected by space travel, both the Soviet Union and the United States carried out a series of launches with animals. As early as 1947, the USA launched a capsule with flies, and in 1949 the Rhesus monkey "Albert 2" was sent into space. Both of these experimental flights were carried out with V-2 rockets. Perhaps the most famous of these "animal astronauts" is the Soviet dog Laika, who was launched into "Sputnik 2" on November 3, 1957. Laika did not survive the trip, but the experiments showed that space travel with living passengers was possible. Laika became the first living creature to orbit the Earth.

The first space travelers

The world's first space traveler was cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. On 12 April 1961, he was launched in a Vostok 3KA spacecraft. The journey was named "Vostok 1", and the space capsule completed one circuit around the Earth. Gagarin was in space for 1 hour and 48 minutes before he left the space capsule at an altitude of 6 km and landed safely by parachute. The FAI requires the pilot to land with the spacecraft in order for it to be defined as space travel, and the Soviet authorities therefore kept the details of the landing secret for many years. The Soviet Union's success with "Vostok 1" helped to increase the United States' efforts in the space race, and on May 5, 1961, Mercury 3 with Alan Shepard on board made a successful space flight. Shepard thus became the first American – and second human in space. Unlike "Vostok 1", Shepard's space capsule "Freedom 7" did not orbit the Earth, but rose to an altitude of 187 km and fell back (ballistic trajectory). The whole trip lasted approx. 16 minutes. Shepard was later commander of the "Apollo 14" mission, and was the fifth man to walk on the moon. On 20 February 1962, the Americans succeeded in getting a human into orbit around the earth. With the "Mercury 6" journey, John Glenn in "Friendship 7" made 3 orbits around the Earth. Later, at the age of 77, he was with the space shuttle "Discovery" on STS-95 on October 29, 1998, thus becoming the oldest astronaut ever. On 16 June 1963, "Vostok 6" was launched with cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova on board. Like the previous Soviet space missions, the launch took place from the Baikonur cosmodrome in present-day Kazakhstan. She was the first k